This Vikings review contains spoilers.
Vikings Season 6 Episode 1
“I no longer wish to be famous.”
Welcome back Vikings fans. The long wait has ended, and the final stage of Michael Hirst’s history inspired drama that began with a simple farmer and his wife so many years ago sets out to complete its tale. Noticeably light on action, “New Beginnings” follows two radically different brothers as Bjorn Ironside assumes control of Kattegat, and Ivar the Boneless meets his match in Russia. In the end, however, it appears the little village built and nurtured by Ragnar Lothbrok will, once again, become the focal point of the first half of the final season.
Followers of Vikings have had plenty of time now to come to terms with the fact that Ragnar Lothbrok no longer dominates the central story arc. He’s been long absent at this point, and now that it appears the world’s most famous shieldmaiden Lagertha may be withdrawing to the little farm she’s dreamed about of late, some viewers may need to re-evaluate their expectations. Vikings has become the story of Ragnar’s legacy as viewed through the actions of his sons and their impact on the world. The boys have their own stories to tell, and at this point, we watch Bjorn try to prove that reason trumps fear and intimidation. It won’t be easy. Just ask Ivar and his new buddy Oleg.
After Ragnar’s death, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) continues to provide a link to the storied past that constitutes the basis of the saga, but now, with her desire to retire from public life, her role looks to significantly change. Walking with a pronounced limp that reminds us of her valiant last stand in the battle to wrest Kattegat from Ivar, Lagertha suddenly appears much older than we last remember. Now the elder statesman, she looks to recapture a youthful simplicity that vanished virtually overnight when Ragnar became king. Listening to and watching her son address the people regarding the future of the town, she understands the sudden burdens Bjorn must now shoulder. “My son, the awful responsibilities of kingship.”
Because of his connection to Ragnar, Bjorn’s relationship with his mother has always been complicated, but now that he’s setting off on this new adventure, she can move seamlessly into the background. She tells him he’s made the right decision to banish rather than execute the collaborators brought before him, but since Hvitserk clearly disagrees, it will be interesting to see whether she’ll insert herself into a potential conflict between the half-brothers. Weary from her decades long battle for respect on the battlefield and in the political arena, her absence now gives her son the opportunity to stand on his own without her presence reminding the people of the past, however much they love her.
We don’t see much of Torvi (Georgia Hirst), but Lagertha’s absence may impact her more than anyone. Lagertha wants to build a farmstead from scratch in much the same way she and Ragnar began their lives together. They sail the river together looking for a good spot to settle, and as she flashes back to her early days with Ragnar, it’s clear she’s found her spot. Torvi and Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) promise to stay until a home is built and crops planted, and when Torvi’s child asks his grandmother if she’ll be lonely, the stage is set for the two shieldmaidens to remain connected by more than just blood.
Nevertheless, despite the ease with which she enters the next phase of her life, Lagertha does give us a scare when she stands among some trees along the riverbank, kneels and begins digging in the dirt. At first, it makes sense that she’s ceremonially planting the first seeds of her garden, but when she holds her sword aloft, admiration turns to a fear that she plans to fall on it, ending her life on Earth. Instead, she offers words to the gods, buries it, and pronounces that she will “fight no more,” cementing her intentions for a new life. Fortunately, Valhalla will have to wait just a little longer.
While Lagertha’s decision to step away as Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) begins a new era in Kattegat fits perfectly within the established narrative, Ivar’s journey along The Silk Road feels a bit less convincing. Why Ivar decides to shave his beard once he and his men reach Kiev isn’t clear, but when his caravan is attacked, the story takes an unexpected turn. With The Seer in Kattegat dead at Ivar’s hand, it seems a bit of a stretch that he’s now coincidentally brought before Prince Oleg the Prophet (Danila Kozlovsky) to learn his fate.
Without the spectre of war hanging over his head, the odyssey that leads Ivar to Kiev produces a sense of wonderment as he observes various foreign cultures, but when he’s led to his first audience with the prince, it seems he may have stumbled onto a kindred spirit. Fittingly, Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen) is brought before a man who has just finished brutally murdering a man with an ax reminiscent of the one Ivar embedded in his brother Sigurd’s head. Whether it’s the familiarity of the blood soaked floor or something else, Ivar unexpectedly tells Oleg the truth of his defeat and his current attempt to avoid retribution at the hands of his brothers. It’s a fascinating scene as the two men make their initial assessments.
Though Oleg admits to having heard of Ivar the Boneless, he can’t help but be amused at the revelation that Ivar is also a god and immediately puts this news to the test. Though even Ivar seems horrified as his man has his limbs literally torn from his body at Oleg’s command, the two men continue to explore whether or not there can be anything meaningful to come out of this unforeseen meeting. We rarely, if ever, observe fear in Ivar, so the hot air balloon test that Oleg proposes provides an interesting challenge on several levels.
It’s not really clear why Oleg forces Ivar to fly with him above the city, but his intent seems to go beyond mere mockery of his disability. And then something fascinating happens. As the balloon seems to plunge dangerously close to the city, Ivar’s terror turns to bravado. “You won’t die if you’re with me,” he tells the prince, and of course, the men land safely to the delight of both. Has this been a test? If so, Ivar clearly passes it with flying (no pun intended) colors, and the Viking exile’s fortunes begin to change.
Though “New Beginnings” feels more like a setup episode than a season premiere, its at times excessive exposition still offers insight into a group of characters undertaking profound life changes. Ivar and Oleg have a lot in common, and the Kievan opens up emotionally to Ivar as he recounts the murder of his wife who he explains cheated on him. “I think you and I are going to have a very special relationship,” he tells Ivar who can certainly understand how it feels to kill your wife. That said, Oleg’s decision to look to the west at “Kattegat, our ancestral and original home” might be too much too soon. I suppose we’ll just have to assume that Ivar’s arrival rekindled the Viking spirit lying dormant in the prince.
It remains to be seen whether Vikings can sustain a level of interest fans of the show have come to expect, but hopefully, this final season won’t follow Lagertha’s lead and disappear into obscurity.